Marketing

Solar company falls foul of watchdog for ad with scissors cutting a power cord

Renee Thompson /

A solar company has pulled an advertisement that featured an image of scissors cutting an electrical cord to represent the cost savings of solar, after the Advertising Standards Board upheld a complaint that suggested it promoted dangerous behaviour.

The poster in question, by Solar Engineering, was on display at a pop-up stall at a shopping mall, according to the Advertising Standards Board ruling.

The ad featured two images, one with a black cord and the words “high electricity bill?” Underneath was an image of scissors opened around the cord along with the words “It’s time to cut it!”

A member of the public complained to the Ad Standards Board saying while they understood the ad seemed to be metaphorically inviting people to cut their ties to electrical energy companies by installing solar, they said it encouraged dangerous behaviour.

“Their advertisement shows a pair of scissors cutting a power cord. My patient (5yo) did exactly that at great risk of electric shock,” the complainant said.

“The poster advertisement is displayed in public shopping centres and young children trying to emulate the advertisement are led into highly dangerous practices.”

The complainant said they lodged the formal complaint as they had approached Solar Engineering for a response but did not receive one.

The Ad Standards Board noted the ad intended to convey a money-saving message but it said the “image depicted to promote this saving money message was ambiguous and would not be understood by children”.

The board said advertisers should take care not to show images that encourage unsafe practice and be clear in the message they are trying to convey.

While the electrical cord in the ad was not plugged in, the board said the use of open household scissors around the cord was a realistic enough image

“Making it a greater risk that the action may be copied by a child who may not understand the danger of such an action and would not check to see whether a cord is plugged in or not,” the board said.

Overall the board ruled the advertisement was not clear in the message it was trying to convey and was an inappropriate message to be sending to the community and children.

Solar Engineering did not respond to the board’s request for a response.

Michelle Gamble, of Marketing Angels, told SmartCompany this morning the board made the right call, especially given the advertising medium chosen by the company in this case.

She says a TV ad might have put the image of the scissor cutting the cord into context.

“With outdoor and poster advertising, you’re very much relying on a person joining the dots,” Gamble says.

“Children don’t join the dots. In outdoor ads and in displays, you don’t have luxury of a TV commercial to explain the entire concept, children will take it literally.”

Gamble says while it is unlikely the complainant said the child they mentioned cut a cord in direct response to this particular ad, they were likely trying to make a point about a child doing so out of curiosity.

“I don’t think you can draw the conclusion that the child copied that particular ad but the person who complained has seen impact of a child that has done that,” she says.

Gamble says the advertiser would have been better off to “go to the facts”, perhaps by using comparisons and case studies rather than such an image.

She says other SMEs can learn from the case.

“Get other people to look at the ad and get feedback before going to the extent of getting it produced,” she says.

“Also, stay away from anything that could potentially be harmful. If you are going to come up with campaigns that have unsafe practice, you need to put context around it

“Consider a medium which gives you the opportunity to fully explain instead.”

SmartCompany contacted Solar Engineering but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Renee Thompson

Renee Thompson is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at Fairfax Media for the Bendigo Advertiser and at another regional Victorian media outlet.

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